Gordon Campbell on John Key at the UN, and the Breaking Bad finale

Prime Minister John Key’s speech to the United Nations was aimed mainly at the audience back home, in a plucky, we’re punching above our weight sense. There’s us on the world stage, telling them what for. The content was unlikely to come as a revelation to the rest of the world. We must do more (content unspecified) on Syria! We must reform the Security Council and (that old chestnut) abolish the veto, or allow in more permanent members for longer or consider other ideas for reform that have been kicked around the UN building ad nauseam for the past three decades. Dutifully the New Zealand media reported Key’s speech as “hard hitting” and “scathing.” It was a speech meant to project an image that we would be a scrappy little neutral player in world events, if given the chance – yet it was conveyed via puffball content carefully shaped by MFAT to support the positions of New Zealand’s traditional allies.

Key’s speech was part of a round of meetings he held in New York aimed at furthering New Zealand’s bid for one of the rotating Security Council seat at the UN in 2015/16. (The election will be held in October, 2014.) One of the weirder aspects of this campaign has gone virtually unreported. Namely – how come our rivals for this seat are Turkey and Spain? The reason is because New Zealand is counted, for UN electoral purposes, as part of the WEOG [Western European and Others] bloc of nations, along with Canada and Australia and (with provisos) the United States and Israel as well. It is our colonial and immigration history – and not our current aspirations – that define our UN identity. Geography is not the prime determinant. If it was, we would be contesting the Asia-Pacific seat, against Fiji and Malaysia.

You would think that if Key really wanted to see reform at the UN that furthers New Zealand’s independent interests, he might have used his speech to press for our inclusion in the Asia-Pacific bloc where we repeatedly say our trade and diplomatic future belongs, and not in the Western European bloc where Foreign Minister Murray McCully has been busily downgrading our diplomatic representation. We could even – in the name of meaningful UN reform – have supported an idea mooted by Nauru at the time of its UN accession in 2000, where it argued for the creation of an Oceania bloc of UN representation for negotiation and electoral purposes. No mention of that though in Key’s calls for UN reform. No mention either in Key’s speech of the long mooted “Uniting For Peace” argument that has been a UN Security Council reform option since 1950, whereby if two thirds of the General Assembly agree that an issue is essential to the restoration of international peace and security, this would render a SC veto only a delaying tactic and not an over-ride of the Assembly’s wishes. Guess which country wants to block this reform of the SC veto, and keep the Assembly in a secondary, dependent status when it comes to UN resolutions on the state of Israel?

The fact New Zealand belongs to the WEOG bloc has other ramifications. Any hopes Helen Clark might have to succeed Ban Ki-Moon as UN Secretary-General in 2016 will be assisted greatly by the fact that under the unofficial rotational system of proposing the next Secretary -General, it will be the turn of the WEOG group to offer a candidate. Looking beyond such matters – and viewed solely through the lens of our Security Council bid in October 2014, what did Key have to offer? Much of the speech was boilerplate. A call for more effective action on Syria, without any clue as to what that would entail. Armed intervention? Hardly. More sanctions against Assad? They‘re already extensive, and would not provide the immediate relief to the citizenry that Key was advocating. Key also gave a token nod of support to the US initiated Israel/Palestinian peace talks, widely viewed as an exercise in (deliberate) futility. A bid for UN reform, of the Security Council veto – aimed in context, at Russia’s actions over Syria? Yet for the past 40 years, it has been the United States that has used its veto power more than any other SC permanent member, mainly to torpedo General Assembly resolutions condemning the actions of Israel. Any mention of that abuse of the veto in Key’s allegedly ‘hard hitting’ speech? No, didn’t think so.

On all of these three fronts, Key would be seen by the majority of UN General Assembly members as singing from the US songbook. Not very helpful, given that that Key was attempting to sell an image of New Zealand as an honest and independent broker. To that end, the most useful aspect of the speech was his reference to the Rwanda genocide – if only because, as this article points out, the last time New Zealand was on the Security Council in 1993/1994 it was one of only three SC countries (the others were Nigeria and the Czech Republic) that had supported armed intervention from the outset. We got an oblique reminder of that track record in the finale of the Key speech:

Sometimes, you have to speak up and shine a light on what is going on – or not going on – even when that may be inconvenient to others. This applies whether the issue is Rwanda or Somalia, Yemen or Yugoslavia in 1993/94, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan or Syria in 2013/14.

Which sounds stirring, but the comparisons are nonsensical. Look at them. What lessons are we supposed to draw from the Black Hawk Down disastrous intervention in Somalia in 1994 and the disastrous non-intervention in Rwanda? That we should – or we shouldn’t – intervene militarily? Same with citing the Sudan in 2013/2014. What additional action is Key advocating here? Sudan’s ruler is a monster, but his genocidal actions in Darfur are already the target of US trade sanctions and international legal action. And hey. Sudan happens to be right on side with Key about Syria. Six weeks ago, the New York Times was reporting that Sudan’s government was selling weapons to Qatar, which arranged delivery to the Syrian rebels through Turkey, despite such supplies being under international arms embargoes. Finally, Key’s linkage of Syria and the Congo is nutty. A UN mandated intervention force of blue bereted troops under Tanzanian command has just arrived in the Congo, to curb the warring militias. Yet no one outside the crackpot extreme right of US politics – and New Zealand? – is suggesting an armed UN intervention force at this stage in Syria. It is cheap, windy rhetoric. This speech has been a John Key production.

Breaking Bad R.I.P.
Tonight is the last episode of Breaking Bad. As someone said to me the other day, Breaking Bad is our America’s Cup, a higher unreality in which we can all vicariously participate. Yet tonight, it comes to an end. How? I have no idea, but below are two scenarios. I’ve tried to avoid gratuitous spoilers, but since Walt coughing might be a spoiler for some people, bail out now if you’re still catching up.

Scenario One: Where The Least Evil One wins. Right now, that’s Walt. So how? Let’s start with the ricin cigarette retrieved from behind the light switch in the foreshadowing segment of the “Blood Money” episode a few months ago. Is it for (a) Walt himself? Unlikely, since ricin takes days to take effect (b) the Gray Matter duo who, in Walt’s admittedly biased opinion, started all this ? Possibly. Or most likely (c) Lydia, who we have been pointedly told, likes stevia in her chamomile tea. Question: how could Walt possibly get one of those back-to-back sitdowns with Lydia in order to doctor her tea? Answer: only if Lydia needs a chemist. We’ve been to this place before. That means Walt (or Jesse) first has to kill Todd. Thereby creating a Lydia = Gus Fring, Todd = Gale equivalence. Exit Todd, exit Lydia via ricin in her chamomile. The Gray Matter duo? Terrified survivors. Uncle Jack and the neo-Nazis? Dead via Walt’s big gun, except for Jack’s son Kenny, who is my pick as the man most likely to carry on the family business. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Walt dies. Jesse goes to work for Toyota. He trades in the Toyota Tercel, and drives away with Brock (whom he adopts and who later marries Holly) in a brand new 4WD. Credits roll.

Scenario Two: Evil Rises Again. In this spinoff, Todd and Lydia settle down together in the suburbs, right next door to the Widow Schrader, who is starting a new life. But Marie can’t resist pocketing a few items from Lydia’s house when she goes over to borrow a cup of sugar. Lydia gets pissed off, talks to Todd and…next thing. he’s knocking on Marie’s door. Except this time, Todd gets more than he bargained on, and Marie morphs into being a purple-clad contract killer to raise money to rescue Skyler from that taxi despatcher job. Skyler disapproves, but reluctantly launders the cash through the taxi company, which she now owns. Walt Jnr gets a new car from Aunt Marie. Suggested titles: Purple Is The New Black, or What Holly Knew. I know, I know….you think it unlikely that someone as basically decent as Marie would kill. You’re forgetting how angry she is. (She’s as angry as Walt.) And here’s the unprecedented surprise twist. She becomes a contract killer, but the only people she kills are other contract killers.

Hope we all enjoy tonight.